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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Breasted, James Henry (1865-1935)
"It is important to bear in mind the now commonly accepted fact that in its primitive stages, religion had nothing to do with morals as understood by us today."

-- James Henry Breasted

James Henry Breasted was born in Rockford, Illinois and was an archaeologist and historian. He was educated at North Central College (then North-Western College) (1888), the Chicago Theological Seminary, Yale University (MA 1891) and the University of Berlin (PhD 1894). He was the first American citizen to obtain a PhD in Egyptology. Breasted was in the forefront of the generation of archeologist-historians who broadened the idea of "Western Civilization" to include the entire "Near East" in Europe's cultural roots.

He became an instructor at the University of Chicago in 1894 and was appointed Professor of Egyptology and Oriental History at in 1905 (the first such chair in the United States). In 1901, he was appointed director of the Haskell Oriental Museum, forerunner of the Oriental Institute, which had opened at the University of Chicago in 1896.

Though the Haskell Oriental Museum contained works of art from both the Near East and the Far East, his principal interest was in Egypt; he began to work on a compilation of all the extant hieroglyphic inscriptions, which was published in 1907 as Ancient Records of Egypt, which remains an important collection of translated texts; as Peter A. Piccione wrote in the preface to its 2001 reprint, it "still contains certain texts and inscriptions that have not been retranslated since that time."

In 1919, funding was obtained from John D. Rockefeller for the Oriental Institute of Chicago, under whose auspices Breasted headed the University’s first archaeological survey of Egypt. In 1923 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He died in 1935 from pneumonia, while returning from a trip to Egypt. He is buried in Greenwood cemetery, Rockford, Illinois. His grave site is marked with a large marble obelisk, which was a gift from the Egyptian government.

Breasted is now perhaps most widely known for his coinage of the term "the Fertile Crescent" to describe the area from Egypt to Mesopotamia.


"Like most lads among my boyhood associates, I learned the Ten Commandments. I was taught to reverence them because I was assured that they came down from the skies into the hands of Moses, and that obedience to them was therefore sacredly incumbent upon me. I remember that whenever I fibbed I found consolation in the fact that there was no commandment 'Thou shalt not lie,' and that the Decalogue forbade lying only as a 'false witness' giving testimony before the courts where it might damage one's neighbor. In later years when I was much older, I began to be troubled by the fact that a code of morals which did not forbid lying seemed imperfect; but it was a long time before I raised the interesting question: How has my own realization of this imperfection arisen? Where did I myself get the moral yardstick by which I discovered this shortcoming in the Decalogue?"

"It is important to bear in mind the now commonly accepted fact that in its primitive stages, religion had nothing to do with morals as understood by us today."

"Man arose to high moral vision two thousand years before the Hebrew nation was born."

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